VAR aims to bring clarity to rowdy wrestling in SenegalSat, 06 Jan 2024 16:31:48 GMT

Wrestling is enormously popular in Senegal — and the decisions that award victory or crushing defeat to the grapplers are now overseen by the same technology that is dividing opinion in football across the world. At a fight in December at the National Arena in Pikine, just outside the capital Dakar, 15,000 fans roared on the bare-chested wrestlers to the beat of drums and encouragements booming out of loudspeakers.Sitor Ndour though was not watching the ring — his eyes were firmly fixed on a TV monitor placed in a small blue tent a few metres from the fight. Ndour is the VAR — or Video Assistant Referee — judge.Wrestling fans in the west African country have long called for VAR to be introduced into their sport and in 2023 that wish became reality.Three cameras record the action from different angles, which Ndour can view on two screens.Although the technology is far from that found at football matches in Europe, if a decision is disputed, the VAR official can call over the main umpire and show him the recordings.Maissa Ndiaye, the vice-president of the Senegalese wrestling association (CNG), said the advent of VAR was a source of relief for the referees in a sport which in Senegal has prize money of several tens of millions of CFA francs, equivalent to tens of thousands of dollars.Ndour, who is the president of the referees’ committee, explained: “Sometimes we had a disputed verdict, which caused confusion and (as a result) people broke chairs and destroyed public property because they weren’t happy with the result that had been given.”In this kind of situation if we can review the footage and declare a winner, but also if the public can see the images, that makes our task easier and it allows the spectators to go home with more peace of mind.” – Reluctant acceptance of VAR -In the high-profile fight in December, VAR was called into action several times.In one of the preliminary bouts, which was broadcast live on TV, two heavily muscled fighters, stripped to the waist, were both looking for ways past their opponents and the crucial edge that would give them victory.One of the fighters pulled off a move that led both of them to land on the filled sacks that mark out the ring — and both claimed victory.VAR was called in, with the chief judge making the same screen gesture with his hands that football referees use. The judge walked over to the VAR screen and, having seen the recording, returned to the ring and lifted the arm of one of the wrestlers to indicate he was the winner.His beaten opponent loudly contested the decision and pushed his way towards the VAR tent before he was restrained by security, who eventually escorted him away.Ndour said such scenes were common because while some wrestlers have accepted the introduction of VAR, others have yet to fully grasp how the system works and often demand to the see the video footage themselves.